February 21, 2008 Subject:
Famous and popular travel literature from the 1860s
John MacGregor, outdoor writer and distant relative of Scottish folk hero and outlaw Rob Roy, designed and built a sort of hybrid canoe / kayak with a sail and kayaking paddle which he named the "Rob Roy". He then paddled through the rivers, lakes and canals of Germany, France and Switzerland, portaging between waterways on a cart or on trains. This was a completely novel idea for the time, traveling alone, by water, in a boat so light it can be carried, and it fired popular imaginations across Europe. His account of the journey became a best seller read by royalty and laymen alike, attracting newspaper attention and crowds along the route.
"A Thousand Miles" was written as both an account of the journey and a sort of travel guide for those wishing to follow in MacGregors wake. Indeed, fellow Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson was so enthralled by MacGregors trip, he soon made his own in a Rob Roy, which he wrote about in "An Inland Voyage", Stevenson's first published book. One can profitably find comparison between MacGregor and Stevenson's accounts, Stevenson being the genre imitator, but superior in writing quality.
MacGregor's account has a degree of Victorian optimism that is refreshing, not unlike Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days", the world is an Englishman's oyster with new and exciting modes of transportation making outdoor expeditions available to everyman. At times his account becomes journal-like and banal, commenting on every town, supper and rapid he comes across, and there is no central narrative other than the curious mode of travel and incidental encounters - but for learning about the details of European life in the 1860s and the zeitgeist of the time it is an authentic and pleasurable journey that was influential.
--Review by Stephen Balbach (C) cc-by-nd 06-2007 0